With the VHF on Channel 16, I can hear the Coast Guard but not (usually) the boats talking to them. As a result, I get one side of the conversation and have to piece the story together from that.
One day, the Coast Guard acknowledged a message from a private boat which had reported a cruiser aground at a named part of Lough Ree. The Coast Guard didn’t have a map of the lake and didn’t know where that was [why not?] but it seemed that the private boat was able to explain matters. It was also able to say, in response to questions, that three people were visible on board and that one was wearing a lifejacket or buoyancy aid.
The Coast Guard, after a while, reported that it had asked the Lough Ree RNLI lifeboat to go to the rescue, gave an estimate of when it would get there and asked the private boat to remain on station. The private boat evidently agreed to do so.
Some time later the Coast Guard reported that the lifeboat was on its way.
And some time later again the Coast Guard called the lifeboat and told them they were being stood down and could return to base, as the hire firm was arranging for a boat to be sent to the rescue. The private boat was told that it could leave the scene.
If I were the skipper of the private boat, I would be very pissed off and, next time I saw a boat aground, I’d be inclined to ignore it. That would not be good.
The problem here is that there are two competing rescue services. The official service [PDF] is the one that was called into operation by the private boat, which did the right thing in reporting the grounding. And the system worked perfectly after that.
It should be noted that a private boat cannot know what, if anything, is happening through the unofficial rescue service operated by hire companies on the Shannon: “unofficial” in that its boats are not Declared SRUs (Search and Rescue units), the hire firms (and IBRA) are not listed as Irish Search and Rescue Organisations and their operations are not coordinated by the Coast Guard.
According to the Carrick Craft Captain’s Handbook [PDF/Flipbook]
You will be given breakdown and emergency telephone numbers when you check in.
It also says
In all cases immediately contact your hire boat base for advice using the number provided. In the interests of safety do not accept an offer of help from a passing boat. If needed, assistance will be quickly available either from your hire boat company or one of the associate hire boat companies who may be located closer to you. Your hire boat company will alert the necessary authorities to deal with any incident that may arise.
The bit about not accepting help from passing boats is OK, I suppose, until the water reaches your ankles.
But I suspect that the advice to hirers is based on experience: groundings are probably the most common form of accident, it is unlikely that the boat will sink, it is likewise unlikely that anyone will have been injured and it is probable that a dory or other workboat will be able to make any necessary checks and repairs, haul the boat off and admonish the crew.
However, there may be an element of self-interest in this too: if the hire firms look after these incidents themselves, they won’t find them covered in press releases from voluntary rescue bodies, with videos shot by boat-mounted cameras. I have heard it said that some folk — including private boaters — feel that rescuers’ press releases give the wrong impression of the inland waterways, suggesting that they are more dangerous than they really are, especially given that few rescues involve any threat to life. [That’s something I’ve heard, not my own view.]
It is entirely possible that I misunderstood, and have thus misrepresented, what was happening. But if I haven’t, it seems to me that there is a problem in the relationship between the official and unofficial rescus systems for hire boats. If hire company staff, who are paid for the job, can rescue afflicted boats, without having to impose on the volunteer rescue services, then that’s a good thing. But it would not be good to have private boaters ignore all hire boats in trouble because, some day, the trouble might be serious.
I do not know whether the hire firms and the Coast Guard have discussed these matters and reached some understanding or produced some protocol about when the firms will call in the official services. If they haven’t, it might be nice if they did.
And, in individual instances, the firms might tell the Coast Guard, and ask them to broadcast the fact, that there is a boat aground and that they’re on their way, perhaps asking private boats to keep an eye out just in case. Everyone with VHF will hear the news, but that’s still more private than having press releases and videos on websites.